Searchers try again for lost EgyptAir flight's 'black boxes'
November 6, 1999
NEWPORT, Rhode Island (CNN) -- U.S. Navy teams will make another attempt Saturday to recover the flight recorders from the EgyptAir plane that crashed off the Massachusetts coast Sunday, guided by electronic signals from the devices.
The pinging sound the "black boxes" emit has allowed searchers to pinpoint the flight data and cockpit voice recorders on the ocean floor, but weather conditions forced the Navy to suspend search operations Friday night without recovering the devices. Officials said the search ships would remain in position and pick up the search at daybreak.
The Boeing 767 crashed about a half-hour after leaving New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, killing all 217 on board.
A probe towed behind the search ship USS Grapple picked up the signals. No divers have entered the water, where waves measured 7 to 9 feet and bad weather has hampered efforts to recover wreckage throughout the week.
Equipped with sonar, cameras and mechanical arms, the probe is capable of retrieving the voice and data recorders without diver assistance.
"If the boxes are still attached to something or you have wire or something else, you may have to wrap something around the boxes and have it pulled up by the crane that Grapple has on board," said Capt. Bert Marsh, the Navy's search coordinator.
The Grapple crew launched the robot into the ocean some 60 miles off the Massachusetts coast after search efforts had been delayed for two days by bad weather. Several civilian and military officials at the Pentagon say government investigators may soon have to weigh whether a full recovery of bodies and wreckage is worth the risk to Navy divers.
These officials say there has been no official recommendation, or even discussion, of limiting the operation to recovery of the flight recorders or possibly just to large pieces of debris. But they say that question may have to be addressed soon.
Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon told CNN, "It's too early to speculate on that. The Navy will do whatever is necessary to help the NTSB get the information it needs to conduct a thorough investigation."
The Boeing 767 that crashed on Sunday was carrying 217 people, all of whom died.
The plane hit the water in an area about 60 miles south of Nantucket. Ocean depths there range from 200 to 270 feet, near the limits of where human divers can operate.
But other Pentagon officials expressed concern that the deep water and approaching winter weather may make a full recovery operation prohibitively dangerous, not to mention time- consuming and expensive.
Because divers have to use special techniques to operate at such depths, the time they can spend on the ocean floor can be as little as 20 minutes.
That means thousands of dives might be required, which would take months, perhaps more than a year, to bring up all the wreckage.
In contrast, TWA Flight 800 crashed in July of 1996 into 120 feet of water. That made recovery over the summer months less challenging than the EgyptAir operation.
If the Navy were to make a recommendation to limit the EgyptAir recovery, it would not come until after the airliner's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder were recovered and evaluated, Pentagon sources said.
And much would depend on whether those devices provided conclusive evidence of what caused the plane to crash.
Radar data released by officials late Wednesday showed that the plane plunged and then climbed violently before dropping into the Atlantic, apparently breaking into pieces during its final fall.
"Assuming the flight recorders answered the key questions, and assuming that there was no need to reconstruct the plane in a hangar, it might make sense to bring up only parts of the plane, or maybe none of it at all," said one military official who did not want to be named.
But other officials said even if the black boxes provided a strong indication of what went wrong, government investigators might need to recover the plane, or key parts, to isolate the cause and ensure that other planes don't have a similar problem.
Another question would be the recovery of bodies.
The safety concerns over dangerous dives would have to be weighed against the desire to meet the emotional needs of the victims' families.
After the crash of TWA Flight 800, remains from all the passengers and crew were recovered.
As the search for the EgyptAir flight recorders was going on, Muslims who lost family members in the crash prayed for their loved ones at an Islamic service on shore.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which is in charge of the crash investigation, is also responsible for taking care of more than 100 grieving family members, staying at a hotel in Newport, Rhode Island.
The NTSB says it will allow relatives of crash victims to see some of the wreckage that has been retrieved so far and taken to Quonset Point, Rhode Island, across Narragansett Bay from the Newport Navy base.
A small memorial service was held Thursday in Cranston, Rhode Island, for more than a dozen Coptic Christians who were on the flight.
An Islamic prayer service was conducted Friday at the Newport hotel. A memorial service for all faiths was scheduled Sunday.
Also Friday, the Rhode Island medical examiner's office distributed blood-sample kits at the hotel compound where relatives of victims were staying.
The kits will be used to make DNA matches with human remains that are expected to be retrieved eventually from the ocean floor, said Richard Bolig, spokesman for the Rhode Island Department of Health.
EgyptAir's final dive at supersonic speed, radar indicates
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